Where Astronauts Come From
Fifty years ago, in Murfreesboro, Tenn., lived a girl who would someday become one of the first female astronauts and fly in space not once, but three times.
That girl was Rhea Seddon, a surgeon and a veteran of three space shuttle flights in the 1980s and '90s. Today Seddon, the community and the educators at Murfreesboro's Hobgood Elementary School are preparing other students to follow in her footsteps.
Hobgood Elementary School was selected in 2005 to participate in the NASA Explorer Schools project, through which NASA enters partnerships with selected schools to incorporate NASA content into science, technology, engineering and mathematics instruction. The project supports the agency's goal of attracting and retaining students in STEM disciplines. Seddon is a member of Hobgood's NASA Explorer School advisory board. She and her husband, former astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, are very active in supporting education in Murfreesboro where they currently reside.
Hobgood science teacher Chick Knitter said the students and faculty have had many unique opportunities and experiences since becoming a NASA Explorer School. With funding from the project, Hobgood purchased cutting-edge technology that allows students and teachers to join NASA's Digital Learning Network. Through videoconferencing and live webcasts, the DLN brings NASA content into the classroom. It allows students and teachers to interact with education specialists and with scientists and engineers at NASA centers across the country.
"Through numerous videoconferences over the past three years, Hobgood's students have been able to interact with scientists, astronauts or engineers without ever leaving the school's campus," Knitter said. "We have also 'visited' places as remote as 60 feet under the Atlantic Ocean to a dry desert in California."
The school also showcases the unique videoconferencing ability to parents and the community during its annual NASA family nights. "At this year's event, a parent, who couldn't believe what she was seeing, got out her cell phone and called her oldest son and told him she was talking to a man (Scott Anderson, DLN coordinator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center) on TV," Knitter recalled.
"She then held up her phone and asked Scott to say something to her son!
"The DLN conferences have and will continue to play a major role in helping to excite and educate students, staff and parents in the years ahead."
Another area positively impacted by the NASA partnership is professional development for teachers. Each year since becoming a NASA Explorer School, Hobgood teachers have attended national math and science meetings, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Science Teachers Association conferences. "The information and excitement the teachers bring back with them directly impact the school's learning community," Knitter said.
Teachers have also attended summer workshops to gain a more indepth understanding of STEM concepts. This summer, Hobgood science teachers will study propulsion at NASA's Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. Two years ago, a teacher spent a week at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, learning activities to help students understand the relationship of mathematics and aerospace. Three years ago, two teachers spent a week in Yellowstone National Park studying weather and climate conditions.
Knitter said the content workshops strengthen the teachers' content knowledge and help them learn inquiry-based methods for teaching national standards to their students.
Hobgood has taken advantage of a few special opportunities offered to NASA Explorer Schools. One of those was NASA's Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunity. Last year Hobgood was one of 20 schools selected to design, build and conduct an experiment on NASA's "Weightless Wonder" aircraft. By flying a parabolic arc, the aircraft enables occupants to experience short periods of microgravity. The airplane makes a steep climb followed by an equally steep dive. This process is done repeatedly during the flight.
Knitter's sixth-grade students created and tested hypotheses on the reaction of several toys in a microgravity environment. "Though this may sound like 'kids play,'" Knitter said, "the scientific investigation, requirements and knowledge discovered through this unique opportunity was something I, as the teacher, could have never been able to offer or challenge my students without the NASA connection."
NASA retiree Robert Jackson, who previously managed the Microgravity Science and Applications Project Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., helped Hobgood students and teachers prepare for the microgravity challenge.
"We learned so much from his guidance and expertise in the area of microgravity and the scientific method, but most importantly the school made a friend who has since continued to volunteer his time teaching students and teachers in the area of STEM," Knitter said. "One cannot teach what he/she doesn't know, so why not learn from those who know how to put a man on the moon -- NASA and its employees!
"The connections and relationships we have made with those outside the Hobgood community because of our partnership with the NES project have had almost as much of an impact on our school as the partnership itself."
NASA Explorer Schools project →
NASA's Digital Learning Network →
Astronaut Rhea Seddon Bio →
NASA Education Web Site →
NASA Reduced Gravity Research Program →
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services